Bike vs Bomb

Penny on her recent Alps to Ocean bike ride, published on March 18.
An easy ride along Lake Ohau after the climb to Tarnbrae.
Penny (left) and her sister Gillian at end of the trail in Oamaru. “We borrowed the bikes for the photo,” says Penny.
Mt Cook Airport the day the helicopter ride was cancelled.
The long and winding road to Lake Ohau.
A welcome sight at Kurow.
Lake Tekapo — even on a grey day, the colours were striking.
The Clay Cliffs 10km west of Omarama.

IT STARTED out optimistically enough. Alps to Ocean, a cycle ride starting at Mt. Cook and finishing on the coastal plain: three and a half days of freewheeling downhill, obviously. I looked briefly at the itinerary, which mentioned a steep part — but the hired bikes would have good brakes, surely? No problem!

I checked with the organisers, Milton Rotary, who had refused, on health grounds, to take me on their Milford Track trip. No worries, they said. Much less strenuous than the Milford Track. So my sister and I signed up enthusiastically for the mid-January trip and began to make travel arrangements.

It was only later that I began to have a few niggling doubts, after little things I’d seen and heard, culminating in an article written by someone who, like us, had joined up without reading the small print. He survived, though somewhat stiffly, to tell the tale, which described a much more arduous trip than I had envisaged: the steep part turned out to be a rise, not a descent.

Obviously, I needed to check it out more thoroughly. I looked at the website, and was shocked to see that on day three, we seemed to be tackling Mt Doom. On a bicycle. (I think this was partly a result of the scale they were using for the diagram.)

Some training was in order. I tackled a few of the hills around Gisborne, and spent a couple of days aimlessly riding round the Poverty Bay Flats to accumulate a good number of kilometres, but as even the official website suggested that you might need to push the bike up some of it, I felt there was no need to try too hard. My sister lives in Palmerston North, so I knew I wouldn’t be the only one unused to hill climbs.

We set off on our epic journey south — we had intended to travel by car, bus, ferry and train, but in the end it became bus, ferry and plane. The new bus trip from Picton to Christchurch is attractive and interesting, but we didn’t feel we could cope with eight and a half hours of it twice in a week.

We were being picked up at Oamaru, and we got there nice and early, on a grey, drizzly morning. We read the newspaper as we waited, and saw that the Mt Cook area (where we were heading) was to experience a weather bomb, starting that evening and lasting a few days. Having come prepared for dry, sunny weather, we felt ill-equipped to cope, so we rushed around the corner to the Postie Plus sale and bought some $10 trousers. My sister also bought a more weatherproof jacket, and we felt more able to face whatever was coming.

When the vans arrived, there were 18 of us, plus two drivers (for the two vans) and two guides. Most were from the North Island, mainly Auckland. Some were very fit, experienced cyclists, some were mainly trampers, and some did a bit of both. Apart from a 17-year-old (the son of another member), we could vaguely be described as middle-aged.

The trip to Mt Cook was very interesting, with stunning lakes and views. The colours were particularly noteworthy, the glacial lakes contrasting with the wild flowers, the golden grasses and, for a time, the blue sky. However, as we approached the mountains, things became grimmer, and we couldn’t see much of anything except cloud.

That night the weather became worse, with thunderstorms, rain and wind. In the morning visibility was very limited, and there was a chill in the air, particularly when exposed to the wind. We had to be up and ready very early, so that we could cope with whatever programme was decided on. The first part was supposed to be a ride to the airport, a helicopter ride across the lake, and then a ride down a fairly rough track, involving several fords, before reaching a road with vehicular access.

We took the vans to the airport, where eventually it was decided to drive around the lake as far as we could, and start from there, cutting off the rather dicey first 35 kilometres. Our leisurely lunch of DIY sandwiches, fruit, soup and biscuits assembled from the back of the van and enjoyed while lazing in the sun turned into a make-your-sandwiches-at-the-airport, carry-them-however-you-can and eat-them-in-the-rain type of meal – very reminiscent of picnics at Lake Waikaremoana.

Back into the vans for a pleasant trip — even in the rain, the lakes were striking — and finally, wearing our rainproof and windproof gear, we were off. The surface of the metal road was very corrugated, but with the wide tyres on my hir ed bike, it wasn’t such a terrifying prospect as it might have been on my own bike.

The rain had settled to drizzle by that time, so when we arrived at the accommodation in Twizel we were damp rather than sodden. The steady rain after that meant that the dryer was in constant use as we tried to prepare ourselves for the next day.

This was going to be the easy day — a short distance, no big hills, a flat, pleasant ride along the canal to the weir, and then a good surface for the last few kilometres. However, we found that Meridian Energy had closed the weir where we were supposed to meet the vans for lunch, which meant that we had to take the alternative route. This involved a few kilometres of riding along the main road out of Twizel against a terrific headwind and then riding along the other side of the canal. A few members of the group took one look at the surface and decided to go in the van instead. The rest of us (more intrepid? Or more foolish?) carried on. After all, it was only 15 kilometres.

It took over two hours for the slowest amongst us (guess who), on a 4WD track described on the website as “rough and steep in places”. There was a very rough, rocky surface, with potholes and puddles and a few steep hills where we pushed the bikes up and then had to pick our way carefully down again between the rocks, with occasional tantalising glimpses of the smooth, flat surface on the other side.

Finally, we reached the weir only to find that Meridian hadn’t closed it after all. We were too tired to be indignant, and just gave a sort of collective whimper as we soldiered on — there were 40 more minutes to go before we reached the vans for lunch. Never have I been so happy to see a corned-beef sandwich.

Once we’d got our breaths back, we rode along the lake shore on a good track and then the sealed road to get to the Lake Ohau Lodge. As I reached the end of the 100 metres or so to the lodge, I heard some of the sweetest words in the English language: “They’ve got two spas!”

The next morning, everything looked better. The sky was cloudless, Mt Cook was snow-covered and gleaming in the sunlight, the lake was blue and still, the landscape was empty and inviting and the breakfast was substantial.

Reinvigorated, we leapt on our bikes and set off for the longest day of the trip, with a long, steady climb to 900 metres. Again, the surface was a bit rough, but in the sunshine it wasn’t so depressing, and when you had to keep stopping to admire the view or take photos, the time didn’t matter. It wasn’t any worse than Waimata Valley Road, really, only longer.

Suddenly, when I thought we were about halfway up, we came to the sign saying we’d reached the summit! After celebratory selfies and drinks of water, we started on the downward path, which was pretty easy and not too rough. Although you could see mountains in the distance, it was an area of more rolling hills and low vegetation, so quite easy going.

I saw a woman beside the track picking something from a bush, so I stopped to see what it was. She gave me a handful of delicious gooseberries, the plant having survived from when the area was used for farming.

When I came out on to the next part of the track, there was no one to be seen, but I happily followed the signs. However, after a while I came to a fork in the road, with no indication which way I was to go. After trying both roads, I chose one and, some distance on, found a sign, which was a relief.

I carried on and on. It was a long, straight, sealed road, pretty flat, lovely for biking, with visibility for kilometres ahead and behind. The only trouble was, I couldn’t see anyone. No cyclists anywhere. No houses either, no cars, no people — and no signs. I was sure I hadn’t missed a turnoff, and I realised that even if I rang anyone, I couldn’t say where I was, and I wouldn’t know where they were, so I just kept going, and finally I came round a corner and found the van. There was always one guide at the back of the bunch, and normally that was where I was, but it turned out that someone was behind me this time, and they arrived some minutes later.

Only half of the group were there, as the others had been taken to see the Clay Cliffs, which were nearby. When they came back, the rest of us went. I’d never heard of them before, but they were astonishing — huge and imposing, formed from an unusual clay-based rock.

After that, we set out again on sealed roads and fine gravel, passing alongside one beautiful lake after another.

That evening we toasted our success so far (no punctures or accidents, just one blown tyre) and prepared to face the short (but steep) ride to the Aviemore Dam the next morning.

Again, beautiful weather, a bit crisp first thing, but it quickly warmed up. The steep bit wasn’t as bad as the worst parts of Wheatstone Road, but it was long and sustained, and pretty daunting. I managed to stay on my bike until I realised that with all my efforts I was only just keeping up with those who were pushing their bikes, so I joined them. The fitter members of the group grimly pedalled on and made it right to the top.

That was where we were ending the ride, although the trail goes right to the seashore in Oamaru.

Altogether, it was enjoyable and not too difficult, and it was good to share the experience with a group. You may think of doing it for the exercise, for the bragging rights, for the scenery or to lose a couple of kilos, and it’s very good for all of these, but take my advice — check the weather forecast first.

IT STARTED out optimistically enough. Alps to Ocean, a cycle ride starting at Mt. Cook and finishing on the coastal plain: three and a half days of freewheeling downhill, obviously. I looked briefly at the itinerary, which mentioned a steep part — but the hired bikes would have good brakes, surely? No problem!

I checked with the organisers, Milton Rotary, who had refused, on health grounds, to take me on their Milford Track trip. No worries, they said. Much less strenuous than the Milford Track. So my sister and I signed up enthusiastically for the mid-January trip and began to make travel arrangements.

It was only later that I began to have a few niggling doubts, after little things I’d seen and heard, culminating in an article written by someone who, like us, had joined up without reading the small print. He survived, though somewhat stiffly, to tell the tale, which described a much more arduous trip than I had envisaged: the steep part turned out to be a rise, not a descent.

Obviously, I needed to check it out more thoroughly. I looked at the website, and was shocked to see that on day three, we seemed to be tackling Mt Doom. On a bicycle. (I think this was partly a result of the scale they were using for the diagram.)

Some training was in order. I tackled a few of the hills around Gisborne, and spent a couple of days aimlessly riding round the Poverty Bay Flats to accumulate a good number of kilometres, but as even the official website suggested that you might need to push the bike up some of it, I felt there was no need to try too hard. My sister lives in Palmerston North, so I knew I wouldn’t be the only one unused to hill climbs.

We set off on our epic journey south — we had intended to travel by car, bus, ferry and train, but in the end it became bus, ferry and plane. The new bus trip from Picton to Christchurch is attractive and interesting, but we didn’t feel we could cope with eight and a half hours of it twice in a week.

We were being picked up at Oamaru, and we got there nice and early, on a grey, drizzly morning. We read the newspaper as we waited, and saw that the Mt Cook area (where we were heading) was to experience a weather bomb, starting that evening and lasting a few days. Having come prepared for dry, sunny weather, we felt ill-equipped to cope, so we rushed around the corner to the Postie Plus sale and bought some $10 trousers. My sister also bought a more weatherproof jacket, and we felt more able to face whatever was coming.

When the vans arrived, there were 18 of us, plus two drivers (for the two vans) and two guides. Most were from the North Island, mainly Auckland. Some were very fit, experienced cyclists, some were mainly trampers, and some did a bit of both. Apart from a 17-year-old (the son of another member), we could vaguely be described as middle-aged.

The trip to Mt Cook was very interesting, with stunning lakes and views. The colours were particularly noteworthy, the glacial lakes contrasting with the wild flowers, the golden grasses and, for a time, the blue sky. However, as we approached the mountains, things became grimmer, and we couldn’t see much of anything except cloud.

That night the weather became worse, with thunderstorms, rain and wind. In the morning visibility was very limited, and there was a chill in the air, particularly when exposed to the wind. We had to be up and ready very early, so that we could cope with whatever programme was decided on. The first part was supposed to be a ride to the airport, a helicopter ride across the lake, and then a ride down a fairly rough track, involving several fords, before reaching a road with vehicular access.

We took the vans to the airport, where eventually it was decided to drive around the lake as far as we could, and start from there, cutting off the rather dicey first 35 kilometres. Our leisurely lunch of DIY sandwiches, fruit, soup and biscuits assembled from the back of the van and enjoyed while lazing in the sun turned into a make-your-sandwiches-at-the-airport, carry-them-however-you-can and eat-them-in-the-rain type of meal – very reminiscent of picnics at Lake Waikaremoana.

Back into the vans for a pleasant trip — even in the rain, the lakes were striking — and finally, wearing our rainproof and windproof gear, we were off. The surface of the metal road was very corrugated, but with the wide tyres on my hir ed bike, it wasn’t such a terrifying prospect as it might have been on my own bike.

The rain had settled to drizzle by that time, so when we arrived at the accommodation in Twizel we were damp rather than sodden. The steady rain after that meant that the dryer was in constant use as we tried to prepare ourselves for the next day.

This was going to be the easy day — a short distance, no big hills, a flat, pleasant ride along the canal to the weir, and then a good surface for the last few kilometres. However, we found that Meridian Energy had closed the weir where we were supposed to meet the vans for lunch, which meant that we had to take the alternative route. This involved a few kilometres of riding along the main road out of Twizel against a terrific headwind and then riding along the other side of the canal. A few members of the group took one look at the surface and decided to go in the van instead. The rest of us (more intrepid? Or more foolish?) carried on. After all, it was only 15 kilometres.

It took over two hours for the slowest amongst us (guess who), on a 4WD track described on the website as “rough and steep in places”. There was a very rough, rocky surface, with potholes and puddles and a few steep hills where we pushed the bikes up and then had to pick our way carefully down again between the rocks, with occasional tantalising glimpses of the smooth, flat surface on the other side.

Finally, we reached the weir only to find that Meridian hadn’t closed it after all. We were too tired to be indignant, and just gave a sort of collective whimper as we soldiered on — there were 40 more minutes to go before we reached the vans for lunch. Never have I been so happy to see a corned-beef sandwich.

Once we’d got our breaths back, we rode along the lake shore on a good track and then the sealed road to get to the Lake Ohau Lodge. As I reached the end of the 100 metres or so to the lodge, I heard some of the sweetest words in the English language: “They’ve got two spas!”

The next morning, everything looked better. The sky was cloudless, Mt Cook was snow-covered and gleaming in the sunlight, the lake was blue and still, the landscape was empty and inviting and the breakfast was substantial.

Reinvigorated, we leapt on our bikes and set off for the longest day of the trip, with a long, steady climb to 900 metres. Again, the surface was a bit rough, but in the sunshine it wasn’t so depressing, and when you had to keep stopping to admire the view or take photos, the time didn’t matter. It wasn’t any worse than Waimata Valley Road, really, only longer.

Suddenly, when I thought we were about halfway up, we came to the sign saying we’d reached the summit! After celebratory selfies and drinks of water, we started on the downward path, which was pretty easy and not too rough. Although you could see mountains in the distance, it was an area of more rolling hills and low vegetation, so quite easy going.

I saw a woman beside the track picking something from a bush, so I stopped to see what it was. She gave me a handful of delicious gooseberries, the plant having survived from when the area was used for farming.

When I came out on to the next part of the track, there was no one to be seen, but I happily followed the signs. However, after a while I came to a fork in the road, with no indication which way I was to go. After trying both roads, I chose one and, some distance on, found a sign, which was a relief.

I carried on and on. It was a long, straight, sealed road, pretty flat, lovely for biking, with visibility for kilometres ahead and behind. The only trouble was, I couldn’t see anyone. No cyclists anywhere. No houses either, no cars, no people — and no signs. I was sure I hadn’t missed a turnoff, and I realised that even if I rang anyone, I couldn’t say where I was, and I wouldn’t know where they were, so I just kept going, and finally I came round a corner and found the van. There was always one guide at the back of the bunch, and normally that was where I was, but it turned out that someone was behind me this time, and they arrived some minutes later.

Only half of the group were there, as the others had been taken to see the Clay Cliffs, which were nearby. When they came back, the rest of us went. I’d never heard of them before, but they were astonishing — huge and imposing, formed from an unusual clay-based rock.

After that, we set out again on sealed roads and fine gravel, passing alongside one beautiful lake after another.

That evening we toasted our success so far (no punctures or accidents, just one blown tyre) and prepared to face the short (but steep) ride to the Aviemore Dam the next morning.

Again, beautiful weather, a bit crisp first thing, but it quickly warmed up. The steep bit wasn’t as bad as the worst parts of Wheatstone Road, but it was long and sustained, and pretty daunting. I managed to stay on my bike until I realised that with all my efforts I was only just keeping up with those who were pushing their bikes, so I joined them. The fitter members of the group grimly pedalled on and made it right to the top.

That was where we were ending the ride, although the trail goes right to the seashore in Oamaru.

Altogether, it was enjoyable and not too difficult, and it was good to share the experience with a group. You may think of doing it for the exercise, for the bragging rights, for the scenery or to lose a couple of kilos, and it’s very good for all of these, but take my advice — check the weather forecast first.

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